By Brian Bateman
At the 2015 Maccabi Games in Dallas, basketball coach Zack Pollack celebrated his squad’s consolation victory with a slide on the gym floor.
He was thrilled that the 14-and-under boys’ squad rallied back from a tough loss to win the consolation bracket, but in the back of his mind, he knew what could have been — primarily how Australia’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer knocked Team Dallas out of medal contention and into the consolation bracket.
The victory was a temporary lift, but the team, and Pollack, was hungry for more.
A year later, and the 34-year 14U drought was over: Dallas had its first-ever gold in 14U Maccabi basketball.
“As soon as last year ended, we had a really good plan what we wanted to do,” Pollack said.
Team Dallas returned three players from the same squad and seven overall that knew the system. Pollack started tryouts early in December.
One big pickup was Grant Bulmash, who Pollack said is the “best one-on-one player I’ve ever seen at the time I coached him.”
Pairing Bulmash with Robert Tal gave Team Dallas a dominant core, and Pollack was able to surround them with shooters and ball handlers.
But Team Dallas’ biggest asset was the singular goal the players held.
“On the Friday before we left for Maccabi, I told everyone to tell me their goals,” Pollack said. “I was guarded. I said, ‘As long as you guys play your best, then it’s a success.’ But what shocked me was that all but one kid said, ‘It’s gold or nothing for us.’”
At that point, Pollack knew he had a winning team, and a tough task ahead.
“It was a lot of pressure for me. I knew that we had to bring home the championship. It was something I will never forget.”
Team Dallas arrived in St. Louis the next week, and pool play was a double-edged sword: Dallas breezed to an easy 4-0 record, but that poor strength of schedule meant Dallas dropped to a No. 2 seed in tournament play. It wouldn’t be an easy road to the championship.
But Team Dallas was well prepared. When Bulmash and Tal had possession, defenses faced a dilemma. Do they double-team Bulmash or Tal? What about shooters like Jacob Rosenfeld or Nathaniel Trink? Very few teams could solve that riddle.
One that almost did was Atlanta, who whittled down Dallas’ 25-point lead to 2. Phillip Prostok saved Dallas with two clutch free throws to win, 71-67.
In the final, Dallas took on Baltimore, the squad which beat both the Dallas A and B team last year.
“Everybody wanted revenge,” Pollack said.
Baltimore fielded essentially the same team as 2015 absent their starting point guard. Baltimore found ways to slow down Dallas’ athletic offense to the tune of a 12-point lead at the end of the first quarter.
What was worse: Dallas’ defensive schemes weren’t cutting it. Pollack said the squad ran seven different defenses in the tournament. Usually by the second or third attempt, the opponents became so frazzled that they turned the ball over, second-guessed themselves out of opportunities or just made poor shot selections.
Baltimore was a tougher nut to crack.
After several attempts, Pollack found a defense that worked: a 2-2-1 halfcourt trap.
Tomer Tzur started a rally on the other end of the floor with a big 3-pointer and several steals that led to transition points, and Dallas was off to a 23-2 run.
Baltimore recovered its composure and got a boost when Bulmash picked up his penultimate fourth foul at the 4-minute mark.
Pollack was sweating, trying to protect a 6-point lead. He put in his five best ball handlers and stalled the clock for 2 minutes.
That allowed Bulmash to return and dominate the one-on-one matchups. Jake Duttarer dribbled out the clock for a 59-49 win and that elusive gold medal.
“Every one of our 10 kids had family members that watched a game in St. Louis.
“Most of them watched several. It was crazy parental support,” Pollack said. “They were live-streaming the game on Facebook. At the time, I had no idea how big this was for everyone outside of us.”
At least four players will try to ride their success into the Maccabi national team tryouts Sept. 10-11 in Philadelphia. Bulmash, Tal, Phillip Prostock and Tzur are all expected to attend.
“This will be a springboard for next year,” Pollack said. “We’ve won 16U gold before, but it was nice to get that 14U medal.”